Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches, Northern Ethiopia
“By vast expense and hideous pain, the rock a church became”, wrote a historian in the 17th century. Lalibela is also described as the “African Petra” or “New Jerusalem“. Undoubtedly the 12 rock hewn churches, whose construction started during the reign of king Lalibela (13th century), are one of the foremost wonders of the world. The legend tells that Lalibela received a heavenly vision and angels helped to finish the work in a short time. But it is more likely that Lalibela received his inspiration during his exile in Jerusalem, which gave him a longing to build a kind of “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia, accessible for all Ethiopians.
Lying in the rugged LastaMountains it is still a rather isolated place and the little town has not changed since the building of the churches 700 years ago. When your walk around in the perfectly shaped churches, using the underground tunnels to go from one church to another and hearing the distant chanting of the monks, you feel as if a time-machine has brought you back to a mysterious middle age world. In the rough mountain landscape which surrounds Lalibela, interesting tours can be made, walking or on the back of a donkey, to enjoy the splendid views on your way to the several rock-hewn churches in the surroundings of Lalibela.
Axum & its Historical Sites
The Axumite Empire (sometimes called the Kingdom of Axum), was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from the proto-Axumite period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire and Ancient India and the Axumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency. The state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, and would eventually extend its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.
Under Ezana Axum became the first major empire to convert to Christianity and was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China Its ancient capital is found in northern Ethiopia named as Axum. The Kingdom used the name “Ethiopia” as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.
In this regard, Axum is the most ancient city of Ethiopia and the site of many remarkable monolithic stone stele or obelisks which represent the ancient civilization and footprints. This ancient city also houses different ruins of ancient palaces and tombs including Queen of Sheba’s.
The prominent areas include. a visit at stele square, Kaleb tombs, the 4th century Christian inscription of King Ezana, Queen of Sheba’s ruined palace, Archeological museum and TsionMariam Church; where the original arc of the covenant is housed.
Bahir Dar and Lake Tana
Bahir Dar has always been a center of trade. Still the Tankwa’s (small papyrus boats) are used for trade and transport. Situated on the shores of Lake Tana, with palm-lined avenues, colorful markets and handicraft and weaving centers, it is a pleasant place to stay.
It is also a good base for tours into its surroundings. A boat can be rented to visit some of the numerous islands on Lake Tana with their age old monasteries. The construction of these monasteries started around 1400 A.D. Most monks of these monasteries spend their days in meditation and cultivating their gardens so they live a completely self-containing life. The churches are sometimes built in African stye, like a big round hut. Many of them have beautiful wall paintings and the monks will show you age old hand written Bibles and other church treasures. It is said that in one of the monasteries, TanaCherkos, the Ark of the Covenant was hidden for 800 years before it was brought to Axum. Indeed, you can see there are some pillar-like remains from what must have been an altar. The tops of the pillars are hollow and have been used as containers for blood of sacrificed animals. In the old temple in Jerusalem, animals were sacrificed in the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.